“Check on the hull while you’re down there,” Artemisia advised.

  Hanno glanced at the ship. It had weathered the sands surprisingly well. The amber remained unbroken, and the smoothed boards looked like they’d been beached on purpose rather than forced across the dunes. But dug in as it was, not even the crew pushing all at once would likely move it. And the ocean was nowhere in sight.

  The sun beat down on Hanno, and he blinked his vision clear of the many false images glistening against the horizon.

  “Translator!” Hanno called out, and returned to the stern. “What language must we speak to communicate with this cursed land?”

  “I’m not sure,” Liva admitted.

  “Shouting at the desert, Hanno? Have we gone heat-mad already?” Artemisia asked.

  “Look around you, Helmsman!” Hanno commanded. “This is the ideal moment for heat madness. Perhaps I am swimming and shall soon be cooled into sanity.”

  Hanno looked at the ground.

  “Oh look! I’m not,” the king said.

  “Whine about it more, see if that helps. Let’s get some ropes. We might be able to drag it to shore,” the helmsman suggested.

  “Hold, Artemisia. The desert put us here, it can put us back. Bostar, Liva, get down here.”

  Bostar did so without hesitation. Liva considered it a moment before following. The two of them walked toward Hanno, wary of the unmoving ground.

  “Poseidon battles the land. We are but pawns in your wars, oh gods!” Aba cried out.

  “Change your prayers, Priestess,” Hanno ordered. “Your king is no pawn.”

  “Do you really think some deity cast us here?” Bostar asked.

  “Something did. Liva?”

  The Lixitae shook her head.

  Hanno kicked the sand, feeling the grit beneath his sandals.

  “Whatever it is, it’s gone now. Or at least it’s over there,” Liva noted.

  “It stole us from the ocean. If it wanted to fight us, it should show itself,” Hanno said. “Or we should show ourselves unafraid.”

  Hanno set off toward the dunes. Bostar and Liva followed.

  “I’d rather not fight the desert,” Bostar noted.

  “And I’d rather ask why it stole us,” Liva added. “If that’s what it did.”

  “It is a foul desert. It is heat and death, and knows only how to impose suffering on others. I shall match it suffering in equal measure and burn the sand to glass,” Hanno vowed.


  Hanno spat.

  “Even the deserts outside Carthage obey us. They do not harm our people. This desert must be brought to heel,” Hanno said.

  “And how is that policy working in Carthage? Have you brought the deserts there to heel?” Liva asked.

  “We keep the Berbers at bay. They and the desert know to leave us alone.”

  “So this is a first for you. You’ve never been in a desert?”

  Liva and Hanno stopped. The king looked around.

  “Can’t say I’m enjoying the experience,” Hanno grumbled. “Let’s find where this evil thing is hiding.”

  The ground shook beneath Hanno’s feet.

  “Yes, it hears me,” Hanno said. He stomped his foot. “You’ve captured my ship! Bring us back to the sea — we worship Poseidon, not you!”

  The shaking stopped.

  Bostar readied his bow, but no targets presented themselves.

  Liva lowered her hand to the desert floor, listening and feeling for any sign of life. When she felt none, she traced her fingers along the sand in thought.

  “Are we certain this is even the personified desert?” Bostar asked.

  “It fights the ocean even now,” Hanno pointed out.

  “Have you heard any tales of this, Liva?”

  “The songs the desert people sing present the desert as a living thing, but they do not claim it moves like this,” Liva noted. She absentmindedly traced the outline of a camel rider, and the desert shuddered.

  Liva bolted upright.

  “Evil land! Present a form that I might strike!” Hanno roared. He plunged his sword into the soft ground. “Does the desert feel pain?”

  “I strongly doubt it,” Bostar noted.

  “Then show yourself!”

  Only the distantly battling waves answered the king.

  Liva knelt down and drew the shape of two men and a woman. “Is this the first time mankind has walked upon your land?” she asked the ground.

  The sand fell away around the figures Liva drew.

  “It comes,” Hanno said.

  Hanno stepped between Liva and the growing trench. He plunged his sword into the center, marring the drawn figures.

  The sand stopped moving.

  “Too soon an attack? Come again, foul land,” Hanno invited.

  “You weren’t attacking anything, you messed up my drawing,” Liva said.

  “This is not the time for artworks. Our ship is laid upon the ground.”

  Artemisia had instructed the crew to ready the launching ropes. They pulled and tugged, but the desert seemed to deepen, threatening to swallow the trireme whole.

  “Helmsman, stop!” Hanno shouted.

  The crew fled the shifting sands to the safety of the trireme, where it remained half buried.

  “This land may never have seen mankind, but it does not wish to see us leave,” Hanno declared.

  “Look,” Bostar said. He pointed to the sand falling away where Hanno’s sword had disturbed Liva’s drawing. The images reformed.

  “Yes, that’s us,” Liva shared. She laid her hand on the sand and left an imprint. The ground shook in response. “My name is Liva.”

  The wind came. With it, three dunes rose out from the ground to funnel the breeze.

  The word, “Sagara,” whistled through the sands.

  “The desert speaks,” Hanno said. “What do you want, desert?”

  The dunes fell flat and the ground remained still.

  “Sagara,” Liva said, testing the word on her lips.

  “What does it mean?” Bostar asked.

  “Many things. But the word that most likely fits is ocean.”

  “Ocean?” Hanno asked. “The dry land thinks itself an ocean?”

  “The Berbers call the desert a sea,” Bostar said.

  “Sagara,” Liva called out. “We beg you to release us.”

  Silence answered.

  “The ocean wants a ship,” Hanno mocked. “You are not water, you are sand! Release our ship, cursed land!”

  The ground shook, and Hanno struggled to stay on his feet.

  “Please, great desert. You are an ocean of great breadth and width,” Liva consoled.

  The shaking stopped.

  “Do all deserts respond to speech?” Bostar asked.

  “The Berbers outside Carthage make no such claims,” Hanno noted.

  “Few deserts claim to be the sea,” Liva noted. “The desert people know how to survive in such wastes. I’ve heard their tales and their songs. They don’t consider the desert an evil thing. To them it is beautiful. Harsh, but beautiful.”

  Liva pressed her hand into the ground. She let the sand trickle down her fingers, and Hanno watched as the wind collected it while twirling Liva’s long, black hair.

  Hanno struck the ground with his sword.

  “Words of beauty and blows of steel have equal impact it seems,” Hanno declared.

  “Not all problems can be solved with the blow of a sword, Hanno,” Liva warned.

  “Then how would you propose we solve this problem?”

  “The desert may not speak when you strike it. But listen.”

  Liva inclined her head. The wind kicked up more sand. A distant hawk screeched, and the ground crackled under Hanno’s shifting feet.

  “It has a voice,” Liva said. “It spoke its name and it speaks even now. The desert tells you what to do.”

  “And you speak this desert’s tongue?” Hanno asked.

  “I can interpret it.”

  “Then tell it to bring us back to shore.”

  Liva shook her head.

  “Don’t you hear it?” Liva asked.

  “I hear nothing.”

  “Listen. Truly listen,” Liva instructed.

  Crashing, distant waves. Sand blown against unseen dunes. A haze of sunlight so hot it conjured further sounds in Hanno’s mind. And a distant, crying eagle.

  “It’s sad,” Liva shared.

  “The desert weeps?” Hanno asked.

  “Do you see any sign it’s rained in the last decade? The desert calls itself an ocean.” Liva rested her hand upon the ground. “Perhaps that’s why it stole your ship.”

  The wind whirled a moment, the dunes falling over each other like breaking whitecaps. It settled after a moment, and the waves froze.

  “It’s a desert. It should accept it,” Hanno noted. “The Berbers accept their desert, and it accepts them. Why is this land different?”

  “Maybe this land was once an ocean,” Liva said. “Maybe the waters receded long ago, and it battles the sea, thinking to regain its place.”

  “Accept your position, desert!” Hanno demanded.

  The winds kicked up and the dunes fell over once again. A high wave cascaded on top of Hanno. The king struggled to swim free of the falling sand, spitting and futilely swinging his sword.

  Bostar and Liva fell over as well.

  “We’re sorry!” Liva shouted.

  The ground stilled once more, leaving Hanno and the others half buried. They struggled to escape, but the desert pressed their arms against their sides.

  Hanno glared at the ground, grinding his teeth and twisting against the dune’s embrace.

  “Great desert, you are a great desert!” Bostar shouted. “A wonderful desert — no need to be a sea.”

  A tidal wave-sized dune rose high enough it blotted out the sun, and raced toward them.

  “Many travel your lands and love your sands,” Liva said. “Please! Please!”

  The dune tilted, and sand fell upon their heads from the coming crest.

  Just before it fell, Hanno sang. His voice remained quiet, but the tune echoed across the trembling land.

  “The red in morning, what can compare. The golden dunes glowing, the wind in my hair. Send chills and warmth and joyful sorrow, it comes, the dawning light, it comes. Endless horizon and jewel-speckled sky, the sea of sand, my grave and my sigh,” sang the king.

  The dune froze over their heads. It cupped around Hanno, carrying his voice. More dunes rose up to deliver the sound, and soon the song echoed across the desert.

  “No need to be the sea, mighty Sagara,” Hanno said to the dune. “It has its silver shores. But you possess the golden dunes at sunrise.”

  The dunes fell. The sand receded from Hanno, Liva, and Bostar, leaving them standing upon the bare ground once more. Even the three drawn figures returned.

  “What was that?” Liva asked.

  “A Berber song. They sing it in Carthage at dawn,” Hanno said, and sheathed his sword. “Golden Sagara, be the beauty those Berbers sing of. But let us ride your seas once more, and I assure you that ships and vessels will bear witness to your beauty for time unending. Each morning, passing crews of Phoenicians will see the dawn over your dunes. Let us return, and we will tell them how golden you will be.”

  The ground shook.

  A great valley opened up beneath the grounded trireme. Sand fell in torrents down the steepening hill, and the ship came with it.

  Twin dunes rose on either side of the valley, extending all the way to the sea. The desert split upon the shore, and water rushed inside.

  “To the ship!” Hanno commanded.

  They jumped into the cascading sand, the trireme rushing toward them.

  Artemisia saw the king and shoved against the rudder oar to turn their direction.

  When they came close, Hanno and the others lunged for the guide ropes trailing around the falling trireme.

  They each took hold, Hanno swinging around and pulling himself onto the deck. The marines tugged Bostar and Liva to safety just before the rushing sea reached the widening valley.

  “Brace!” Hanno shouted.

  The trireme hit the water.

  “Oars out!” Hanno commanded, and tugged the yard arm rope to catch the wind.

  A wake of sand and surf spewed over the rails as the trireme sped through the valley and burst into the open ocean.

  The land fell behind them, and the sea rose to receive them.

  The ship slowed in the cold water, and the crew cheered.

  The rest of the fleet remained further out. They’d been unsure whether to proceed or not, and answered Jabnit’s call with pipes and shouts of their own.

  “Thank you, Sagara!” Hanno shouted to the shore.

  The waves flattened, and the dunes stilled. The low crest of water continued pressing the shore, leaving the sand glistening where the sun struck its moistened surface.

  “What sort of god did you challenge, Hanno?” Aba asked.

  “Just the desert,” the king answered.

  He put his hands against the railing, and stared at the land they’d escaped.

  “Helmsman, resume our journey,” Hanno ordered. “Mapen, you recall the Berber song of the desert at dawn?”

  “I know it well, my king,” Mapen said.

  “Sing it for us.”

  Mapen did so, his voice much clearer, stronger, and sweeter than Hanno’s. Jabnit added a tune, and the oars moved to the rhythm of the song.

  Liva joined Hanno at the railing while the rest of the crew returned to their tasks, inspecting the worn hull for any damage from their landward journey.

  “How did you know to sing that song?” Liva asked.

  Hanno kept his eyes on the retreating dunes. “It seemed to work,” he replied.

  “You were stabbing the sand a moment before. Why did you start singing?”

  Hanno frowned. “I prefer songs of the sea, but I must admit that the rising sun over the dunes truly is a thing of beauty. I thought that if no one had been on that desert before, no one must have witnessed it at sunrise. Perhaps the desert had never been told it possessed this beauty.”

  Liva narrowed her eyes and looked up at Hanno.

  “Sagara is not a sea. It needed to be told that. And honeyed words seemed to work best,” Hanno added.

  Liva nodded.

A note from DavidDHammons

Thanks for reading! New chapters will be added MWF. Please rank and review. If you would like to support my writing, please consider donating through Royal Road or supporting me via Patreon. I also have books available on Amazon, author name David D. Hammons, if you would like to read more of my work.

About the author


Bio: I once snuck into a castle. It wasn’t a terribly good castle. In fact it was quite old and broken, but it had a shut door I wasn’t supposed to go through. Yet through it I went. I climbed an ancient wall I shouldn’t have climbed, wandered across borders without using the approved path, and was handed a silver trophy for a contest I wasn’t allowed to enter. From my time growing up in the Missouri Ozarks to my travels abroad, I couldn’t help going places and doing things I probably shouldn’t. Perhaps more of those doors needed 'Keep Out' signs, or if they did have signs they should have been locked, and if they had been locked they shouldn’t have hidden such amazing things that made going through them so worthwhile. I currently live in Springfield, Missouri, where I teach Marketing, study History, and, alongside my wonderful wife, make a valiant attempt at passing through the doorway of writing.

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